Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Retreat

In 1993, my mother’s sudden death from cancer left me stunned and spiritually depressed. Eighteen years later, I’m still not comfortable talking about it, not the death, but the way in which I dealt with it – or failed to deal with it. Christians aren’t suppose to be depressed -- we have joy, peace, and the abundant life. I’m unsure if I should be sharing this story with the world wide web, my Church, or even my family. But I’ve learned that depression is pretty much universal and I’ve also found that talking about it can help us all heal.

During my mother’s brief illness I didn’t want to see her suffer and I was thankful the Lord took her home quickly. But I was still hurting. Eventually I realized I was harboring a deep feeling of disappointment towards God. What I had really wanted was for her to be healed. Or, better still, never ill in the first place. Following her death in May, I entered a time of spiritual waywardness that lasted throughout the summer months. The Fruits of the Spirit had been replaced with grumpiness and resentment. Ever so tenderly, the Lord showed me that my faltering spiritual walk was affecting those around me. Then in that September, I had the opportunity to go on a church-sponsored weekend retreat. Here is the essay I wrote while on that trip . . . .

On Friday morning, women of all ages gathered in the parking lot with their gear for the weekend. I was particularly anxious for the ladies’ retreat to get underway. I was hoping this weekend would enable me to get back on track, living my life as God intended. After four hours on the road, our van pulled into the mountain camp. Immediately I was drawn to a wide, long bridge on the other side of the chick-in building. I was eager to walk over there and gaze at the rushing water and listen to its soothing trickle of water. The width and height of the banks left no doubt there was once a ranging river. But this sorry sight left my soul feeling as empty as the riverbed.

The next afternoon, I left the craft activities of the group and found a quiet spot by the river’s edge to sit and think. As I looked around, I found myself still filled with so much sadness. The row boats were overturned on the river bank. Their blankets of pine needles testified of the long drought. The fishing dock no longer jutted out into the river. Instead, it sat awkwardly several yards away from any water. The river’s usefulness was gone: no fishing, so swimming, no boating.

My quiet contemplation soon led me to realize my own life was just this empty and sad. It seemed that lately my spiritual life had dwindled down to a tiny, immeasurable trickle. And like this once mighty river, my usefulness was gone without the flow of the Holy Spirit. Whatever good I am for the Lord is lost when I fail to walk by the Spirit. But, if I will drink from Christ, my river will never run dry. Revelation 22:17 says, “Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” This is the mark of a Christian. That’s an odd thing to say: Christ gives us both peace beyond all understanding and an unquenchable desire to be still more righteous. Thirsty, yet satisfied; the wonder of this paradox can only be surpassed by ‘sinner, yet saved’.

As I continued to look around me, I saw the trees and shrubs that once flourished at the river’s edge. Now they showed signs of stress from their prolonged unmet need for water. Some of the plants were already dead. I reflected on how the people around me suffer when my spiritual river runs dry. My family and friends can begin to droop as well. Unlike these plants, however, they do not gain their life from me. But the example of my godly, Spirit-filled life can make them thirsty and then they can come to the Lord to drink on their own.

I know the force and power of a rain-swelled river kept it steady and on a straight course. Rocks and logs could pose no obstacle; the water would simply pick up the debris and carry it all downstream. This tiny trickle before me, however, was swayed by every twig in its path. Rocks and logs once submitted to the river’s mighty force, but now they were overwhelming, causing it to meander aimlessly. Likewise, I had gotten off course. I had allowed countless tiny obstacles to redirect me and I was wandering aimlessly.

I sat there remembering the spiritual power that once had been mine and I became keenly aware of God’s sadness over my situation. I thought how disappointed he must be at the tiny trickle of water that had replaced His power and the Holy Spirit in my life. Like rain for the river, I needed soul-drenching prayer to be flowing strong again. Revelation 22:17 promises that all I need to do is desire to drink and I may – “Whoever is thirsty”. I spent the remainder of the afternoon in prayer, confessing the sins that led to my waywardness and praising God for His wonderful promises and this beautiful lesson.

As we were leaving, I went to say good-bye to the little stream. The sadness I had felt was now replaced with hope and peace. And the spiritual river within me was running higher and stronger as we drove off towards home. The Lord is indeed faithful!

Psalm 34:17, 18The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Journal Suggestions:

Describe how you once overcame depression or disappointment.

How is your life like a river, mountain, or tree?


  1. What spoke to my heart in reading this, Barbara, that it was God's nature and the Holy Spirit that talked to you and showed you the way back to Him. Not always necessary to have another human. It also reminded me of a phrase by Tozer (I think it was) who said "I thirst to be more thirty still." The more He gives us the more we want from Him. Thank you for sharing your heart.

  2. You're right Carol -- preachers and teachers are important and necessary. But our most important Teacher is the Holy Spirit. Being quiet, sitting still, learning at the Master's feet is the best sermon of any week :-)